EU, Amnesty International pile pressure on govt to stop crackdown on activists

Thursday September 21 2017

Security officers arrest a man who had gone to

Security officers arrest a man who had gone to Parliament to listen to proceedings in during the anti-age limit protests in Kampala. PHOTO BY ABUBAKER LUBOWA  

By TABU BUTAGIRA

KAMPALA. Twelve European countries have jointly criticised the excessive use of force by Uganda’s security forces to arrest and detain activists opposed to the proposal to lift the presidential age limit.

Under the flag of the European Union Delegation in Uganda, the countries express “deep concern” that the build-up of tension in and around Kampala, the capital, might infringe “the fundamental freedoms of Ugandan citizens and damage the country’s international reputation”.

“We monitor closely and with concern the most recent cases of arrests and actions targeting NGOs and some political activists. We are also troubled by the inflammatory statement used in debating issues of national interest pertaining to the democratic process in Uganda,” the countries note.

They add: “We call on the Ugandan authorities to guarantee the fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly enshrined in the Ugandan Constitution, which in particular provides the rights of all citizens to fully express their civil and political rights without the fear of intimidation.”

EU countries with diplomatic representation in Uganda include the United Kingdom, Iceland, France, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Italy, The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Austria.

Their Thursday statement drew similarities with one issued earlier in the day by the United States Ambassador to Uganda, Ms Doberah Malac, in which she criticised the government’s highhandedness in the wake of growing opposition to the ruling NRM party’s moves to scrap the presidential age limit.

Removing the age is politically important because it makes 73-year-old President Museveni, in power for 31 years, eligible to stand in 2021.
The Ugandan Constitution provides that only persons aged 35 to 75 are eligible to stand for presidency.
The division triggered by the proposal to remove the age cap on Thursday caused chaos in and a premature adjournment of parliamentary proceedings, a security lockdown in the city and unrests and arrests in different parts of the country.

In her statement, Ambassador Malac says such reports, alongside a police raid on two non-governmental organisations’ offices, were “disturbing”. “The United States is deeply concerned that recent arrests and raids stifle the Ugandan people’s right to free expression and tarnish Uganda’s global image,“ she notes, adding: “Infringements on protected rights under Uganda’s Constitution will impede the country’s development. We call on the government of Uganda to guarantee all its citizens freedom of speech, expression, and assembly, without fear of intimidation.”

The criticism unnerved the government, with Ofwono Opondo, the executive director of Ugandan Media Centre, a government communication-clearing house, saying in a rebuttal that Uganda does not take “misplaced and unqualified” lectures from foreigners and will deal decisively with disruptive local political trouble causers.

He notes in a statement that: “… the government of Uganda will spare no effort in promptly dealing with and neutralising criminal-minded people, including political leaders, who think they enjoy the misguided protection from some foreign missions. Only Ugandans through their government and elected representatives know and shall decide how best they want to be governed and by whom. While we value diplomatic relations with all the countries of the world, Uganda is not very keen to take unqualified lectures from foreign agents.”
Meanwhile, the London-headquartered Amnesty International is asking the Ugandan government to halt the violent crackdown on political and rights activists.

“The Ugandan authorities must end their absurd attempts to silence people opposed to scrapping the presidential age limit,” the rights group says.
The statement quoted Michelle Kagari, its deputy regional director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, as saying: “It is ironic and absurd that as the bill is tabled in parliament, the government is blocking citizens from debating the issue.”

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